Immersive for Whom? A Writer and Two Artists Discuss
From (LA)HORDE’s takeover of the Théâtre de Chaillot to Nadia Vadori-Gauthier’s trio at the Musée d’Art Moderne of Paris, immersive performances have featured prominently this season in Paris. This is not a new form in the history of dance, but its dynamism is reaching new audiences today. The dance writer Hang Huang met the Italian dance-maker Alessandro Sciarroni and Elena Giannotti, who starred in Sciarroni’s performative exhibition DREAM, to share their experiences as choreographer, dancer and spectators – as their different memories of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Némo Flouret’s Fôret (Forest) confirm.
Hang Huang: Let’s start with the space for DREAM. How did you find it at the 104?
Alessandro Sciarroni: It was not initially proposed by the 104, but I had been to this exhibition space and liked its hidden nature and walls. With the light designer Valeria Forti, we made it less dark, more melancholy.
Hang Huang: It reminded me of an apartment with warm, yellow window lights. What sparked the idea for this immersive performance?
A. Sciarroni: During the second lockdown in Italy, I decided to take a residency with Matteo Ramponi and Marta Ciappina, who are in the piece. After a few days, I found myself standing up from my chair and walking toward them, closer and closer. I was fascinated by the small details, like the movement of a finger, which are hard to see in a traditional theatrical relationship. Being close to dancers really changes the quality and shape of movements.
Elena Giannotti: After the first residency, Alessandro called the rest of us. We started to imagine how to form an environment [that would allow us] to stay hours with the audience.
A. Sciarroni: We had to limit the scale of movement, since big movements prevent spectators from approaching dancers.
E. Giannotti: And the audience’s presence feeds our movements.
A. Sciarroni: Most of the physical material is generated in real time from dancers’ imaginations, memories and feelings.
H. Huang: Can dancers change things?
A. Sciarroni: There’s nothing written and it can be different. In Paris, I was initially worried about having four rooms. Instead, it was a gift, pushing the audience to move around.
E. Giannotti: The last residency in Italy took place in a single space, with the pianist in the center; we performers could see each other all the time. The energy was different.
H. Huang: To me, not seeing everything is part of the beauty of immersive performances. It can also be intimate if I happen to be alone with a dancer. Elena, did you have any memorable experiences in Paris?
E. Giannotti: I stayed with a young girl for 20 minutes. It was moving. Other performers also had very powerful moments: for example, Marta cried after feeling the presence of an audience member in tears. So far, nothing unpleasant has happened.
A. Sciarroni: If anything happens, they can have a small break and come back: go to the toilet, drink water, or do whatever they need. Some of them did so.
H. Huang: What about you, Elena?
E. Giannotti: I didn't take any break. I was so focused that leaving would have required extra efforts to come back. The possibility of leaving is relaxing, but the real challenge is to keep up the intensity for five hours.
A. Sciarroni: Hang, did you stay long?
H. Huang: Yes, until the end, but I didn’t know I would before I arrived. For the audience, having the option of leaving is also reassuring. Sometimes I just listened to the music, felt the space, or watched other spectators, like the guy who was barefoot. Gradually it became a collective journey between performers and spectators.
A. Sciarroni: The first hour is delicate for people who decide to stay. They represent the energy of the space. The dramaturgy is 80% defined by the music, which is chosen by the pianist Davide Finotti and myself. Show after show, we worked a bit more the music flow. For example, you cannot start with Beethoven’s bleak Moonlight Sonata.
H. Huang: Music is much less present in Forêt, compared to De Keersmaeker’s stage works. How was your experience at the Louvre this winter?
A. Sciarroni: In the beginning I didn’t see anything. Then I crossed paths with dancers. At one moment, I took a break. When I returned, the atmosphere was very different.
H. Huang: After watching 2 or 3 scenes in front of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, I decided to visit galleries without following any dancer. Interestingly, dancers kept coming toward me instead. How did you navigate this performance?
A. Sciarroni: I followed some performers that I was attracted to. Every time I encountered them again, I tried to get closer to see what was going to happen. It is impressive how this small group of dancers shapes the audience’s journey. There was a powerful moment when dancers started running in circles, one after another, in the crowded Mona Lisa room.
H. Huang: I missed that but the standout moment for me occurred in the same room, when dancers hit the floor, each with an emerald gown in their hands. Using sound to confront this famous painting enhanced the experience.
E. Giannotti: I especially appreciated some side scenes, for example the dancer in front of Five Masters of the Florentine Renaissance. The experience at the Louvre was fragmented. When I thought about it later, I appreciated its complexity even more.
Hang Huang is an experienced marketer who is passionate about dance. He started writing about dance in 2018 on his blog dancevisa.com and since 2022, he has been a contributor to Springback Magazine. In addition to writing, he continues to accumulate knowledge & experiences in favor of dance development. Currently, he volunteers for the French non-profit Mécènes DanseAujourdhui and collaborates with several artists in the dance field.